Female military roles change as front lines disappear

Female soldiers say it's time people put aside traditional ideas about their place in combat. Oklahoma lost its first female soldier in combat earlier this month.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Modified: November 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm •  Published: November 13, 2011
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“I don't feel that the fact that I am a female has hindered what I do here in Afghanistan,” Rainville said. “If anything it has given my team an advantage.”

Rainville said she knows some think of women only acting as nurses and in other support roles for the military.

“That's not what it's like anymore,” Rainville said. “We get shot at and hit IEDs and actually see the combat alongside our male counterparts.”

Critics worry about lowering physical standards and about the effect on morale and possible sexual tension in combat situations.

Aragon said physical standards should be the same for men and women, depending on the jobs they are doing within the military. She said that also means women should be allowed to serve in special forces, such as the Army Rangers and Navy SEALS, if they can meet the demanding training requirements and standards that weed out even most men who try out.

“I made a point to be able to do the same amount of push-ups and being able to run as far and as fast as my male counterparts,” Aragon said. “When we set that lower standard, we are saying we don't think women can really do this.”

Aragon said there is no research showing that adding women to combat infantry units would harm morale. She said men and women will just have to keep their hands to themselves, as they would be expected to do in any other situation.

Part of the reluctance to put women in more combat roles comes from a chivalrous concept of protecting women, Aragon said. She has a daughter and son in the military. She said she has been asked how she would feel if her daughter were killed or kidnapped by insurgents.

“I just don't know that I'd feel any different than I would about my son being abducted or killed,” Aragon said. “I'd be devastated either way. It shouldn't have anything to do with gender.”

Keck said those who think women need to be protected should consider that she and her fellow female soldiers are already protecting millions of Americans every day.

“At this point, women have become an indispensable part of the U.S. military and deserve the same respect and honor reserved for men in our fighting forces,” Keck said.